Singers and the Song II

Singers and the Song II

Singers and the Song II

Singers and the Song II


Gene Lees is probably the best jazz essayist in America today, and the book that consolidated his reputation was Singers and the Song, which appeared in 1987. Now this classic volume is available in an expanded edition that retains a number of famous pieces from the original volume, including his marvelous essay on lyric writing, his piece on the art of Edith Piaf, and his admiring look at the genius of songwriter Johnny Mercer. In addition, this edition offers seven new essays that are no less accomplished. Here readers will find a wonderful tribute to "the sweetest voice in the world," Ella Fitzgerald; a moving interview with Jackie and Roy Kral; Lees's account of his involvement with Bossa Nova music and his collaboration with Antonio Carlos Jobim. We also read about Julius La Rosa, the lyrics of "Yip" Harburg, Harry Warren's unforgettable compositions, and the elegant Arthur Schwartz, writer of "Dancing in the Dark" and many other memorable songs.


Singers and the Song explores an art that originated in a time when to say "good popular music" was not to utter an oxymoron. It is one of two books that are indispensable to a deep appreciation of the vocal music that America has contributed to the world's fund of lasting cultural achievements.

In American Popular Song, published in 1972,Alec Wilder used his formidable learning, analytical ability, wit, and strong opinions to treat his subject with a seriousness it had never before received. At once scholarly and entertaining, Wilder scrutinized the work of songwriters from Jerome Kern to Frank Loesser. He discussed more than 900 songs and provided annotated analyses of 384 of them. Erudite and acerbic, a wonderful songwriter himself, Wilder imposed a minimum level of acceptable quality. He explained his criteria with clarity and elegance, lashed the best writers for mediocrity, and praised brilliance in genius and journeymen alike. His book, it is safe to say, is on the shelf of every songwriter, singer, and critic who reveres the popular song tradition.

Next to it, or nearby, is almost certain to be Gene Lees' Singers and the Song, first published in 1987, now polished and expanded into an even more valuable volume. Wilder achieved insight through his composer's formal knowledge and craftsman's sense as one of the last great songwriters of the classic period that ended in the mid-1950s. Lees brings to his consideration of popular song a creator's involvement, a performing artist's knowledge of what works, and a journalist's clear-eyed powers of observation.

Gene Lees the singer has performed and recorded with some of the best jazz artists of our time. He has a compendious knowledge of singing and songwriting, among a staggering variety of other subjects. He is a perpetual student with an omnivorous need to know why and how people do what they do. He wrote an unorthodox rhyming dictionary patterned after not English but French rhyming dictionaries. An important lyricist, he fashioned English words for several of the songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim. This Happy Madness is one of the finest sets of lyrics to . . .

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